Puntarenas, Costa Rica | Cruise port of call | CruiseBe
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Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Puntarenas is a port city on Costa Rica's Central Pacific Coast.

Puntarenas (from "punta arenas" or "sand point") is the capital and largest city in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica. The city sits on a long, narrow peninsula that juts out into the Nicoya Gulf, only about four blocks at its widest. Most travelers use Puntarenas as a stepping stone, riding the ferries from San José and the mainland to the Nicoya Peninsula and back. However, the city is a popular destination for Costa Ricans during holidays and the dry season. Cruise ships also frequently dock here, sending their passengers on day-long inland excursions.


Puntarenas was discovered by Gil González Dávila in 1522. Despite the use of the Gulf of Nicoya as an entryway to Costa Rica's inland territory, the port of Puntarenas was not developed until 1840 when coffee production in the highlands... Read more

Puntarenas, Costa Rica


Puntarenas is a port city on Costa Rica's Central Pacific Coast.

Puntarenas (from "punta arenas" or "sand point") is the capital and largest city in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica. The city sits on a long, narrow peninsula that juts out into the Nicoya Gulf, only about four blocks at its widest. Most travelers use Puntarenas as a stepping stone, riding the ferries from San José and the mainland to the Nicoya Peninsula and back. However, the city is a popular destination for Costa Ricans during holidays and the dry season. Cruise ships also frequently dock here, sending their passengers on day-long inland excursions.


Puntarenas was discovered by Gil González Dávila in 1522. Despite the use of the Gulf of Nicoya as an entryway to Costa Rica's inland territory, the port of Puntarenas was not developed until 1840 when coffee production in the highlands reached exportable volumes. In 1845 the Congress of the Republic declared Puntarenas a duty-free port (with the exception of Cognac and hard liquor). Originally, the coffee was brought to port in oxcarts via a trail through the mountains. In 1859, a stretch of railway track was completed between Puntarenas and the town of Esparza (one of the country's earliest Spanish settlements, founded in 1574). Eventually, the railway was built all the way through to San Joséand service was inaugurated in 1910.

With the railway connection to the Central Valley, the Pacific port's activities continued to be a major part of the region's economy throughout the 20th century. However, due to the aging and deterioration of the port facilities and the need to accommodate the much larger vessels of modern shipping fleets, a new port was constructed in the 1980s to the south of Puntarenas. The site chosen was Caldera, where ships had anchored during colonial times. Caldera was a more appropriate site for larger ships, and actually was the first port site used since 1522.


Puntarenas is generally hotter than the Costa Rican Central Valley, with daytime highs ranging from 30 to 35 °C (86 to 95 °F) in the coldest/hottest months, respectively.

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Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Port Information

Your cruise ship will dock in the center of the town.
The pier is quite long, so free shuttle service is available.

Get around Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Local buses leave from downtown and are relatively inexpensive. For travel to places outside of Puntarenas (ie,



Manuel Antonio

, etc) there's the main bus station. Buses are usually on time and sometimes even leave early, so plan accordingly. Don't be surprised to see vendors on buses selling snacks and drinks.

Taxis are easily accessible and can be flagged down in the street, or you can call ahead to schedule a pickup.

Most locals ride bikes or walk. You can rent bikes from any of the bike shops at really good rates. Just make sure you keep your bike locked. Helmets may be hard to find though, so you might want to consider bringing your own. Remember that pedestrians do not have right of way and that you must ride your bike in the street (not the sidewalk), so be careful!

What to see in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

  • Mangrove Forest in the estuary above the north side of the peninsula. Crocodiles, herons, and red snappers can be found in and around the mangrove forest that grows here. The forest can be seen from any pier on the north side of the city, and some fishermen with small boats on these piers may be able to take you for a small tour if asked and offered compensation.

What to do in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

  • Stroll along the Paseo de los Turistas and see the many colorful shops, street vendors, and bars.
  • Walk out onto the main pier (when there is no cruise ship docked) at night. Many locals come here to drink, fish, and hang out. A wonderful place to view stars and the small lights of distant cities.
  • Visit the new public park at the end of the peninsula. Walk along the south beach until you see the large rocks that make up the sea wall, there are walkways with lights and benches on top of them. A public basketball court, playground, and many benches are a wonderful and quiet place to watch the sunset from.
  • Take a ride on one of the inflatable banana rafts being towed by boats on the south beach. On busier beach days (holidays, cruise days, and weekends), men will offer rides on these tubes. Life jackets provided.


  • Los Delfines, Playa Tambor (Right beside the Tambor airport and minutes away from Montezuma).
  • Marriott Los Suenos, Playa Herradura (15 minutes from


    .), ☎ +506 2630-9028.
  • San Buenas, Dominical. New Course that has 9 holes open and soon completing the course.

What to eat and drink in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

  • Matobes - Located along the Paseo de Turistas across from Parque Jurassico, the restaurant's tables are located on a lovely wooden patio. They serve up excellent pizzas and pastas, as well as delicious, giant calzones. Drinks include red and white wine, and Tona (Nicaraguan beer). Prices are reasonably cheap, and service is strangely quick for Costa Rica but just as friendly.
  • Apretados - A delicious ice cream like a snack that comes in a variety of different flavors. You won't find these sold in any store, but out of the front of resident's houses. Holding the plastic bag in your hand, tear off a small corner with your teeth and suck out the melting apretado.
  • Granizados dos Leches - This sweet, cold snack is similar to a snow-cone, but with a little something extra. Wait on the beach for a cart pushing vendor, and order a Granizado dos Leches in Kola (fruit punch), Chicle (bubblegum), or Naranja (orange) flavor. Shaved ice with powdered and condensed milk, served with a spoon and straw.

Shopping in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

The port itself and the city's waterfront promenade are full of nice souvenir and craft shops. 
Besides, there are several markets in the city center.

The most common souvenirs are made from wood. Unless it's marked as responsible (plantation grown wood), it is most likely not and may be contributing to the deforestation of Costa Rica — or even Nicaragua or Panama!

Most visitors returning home are not allowed to bring back any raw foods or plants. Accordingly, the single most desirable commodity for visitors to take home may be roasted (not green) coffee, considered by many as some of the world's best.

Safety in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Travel in Costa Rica is common with 1.9 million travelers visiting annually, more than any Latin American country. Still, travelers to Costa Rica should exercise caution. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911.
  • Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians, in general, do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas may also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
  • Use common sense. Do not leave valuables in plain view in a car or leave your wallet on the beach when going into the water. Close the car windows and lock the car or other things that you might not do in your own country.
  • In the cities, robbery at knifepoint is not altogether uncommon.
  • Buses and bus stops are frequent locations for robbery. Any bus rider who falls asleep has a good chance of waking up and finding his baggage missing. Don't trust anyone on the buses to watch your things.
  • Like any other tourist destination, watch out for pickpockets.
  • Purse snatchings, armed robberies, and car-jackings have been on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times.
  • "Smash and grabs" of car windows are very common all over the country so do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
  • Another common robbery scheme includes slashing your tires, then when you stop to fix the flat, one or two "friendly" people stop to help and instead grab what valuables they can.
  • If you are motioned to pull over by anyone, do not do so until you are at a well-lit and safe place.
  • Make use of hostel or hotel lock boxes if they are really secure – this is great when you want to swim or kick back and really not worry.
  • On a long trip, it's advised that you make back-up CDs (or DVDs) of your digital photos and send a copy back home. In the event that you are robbed, you will thank yourself!
  • When encountering a new currency, learn the exchange rate from a reliable source (online ahead of time or a local bank, preferably) and create a little cheat sheet converting it to US dollars or the other Central American currency you are comfortable with. Travel with small denominations of US dollars (crisp 1s, 5s, 10s) as back-up... usually, you'll be able to use them if you run out of local currency.
  • Go to a bank to change money when possible and practical. If you find yourself needing to use the services of a person who is a money changer (Sunday morning at the border, for instance) make sure to have your own calculator. Do not trust money changers and their doctored calculators, change the least amount of money possible and take a hard look at the bills – there are lots of false ones out there. Always insist that your change is in small bills – you'll lose more at one time if a large bill is false, plus large bills are hard to change. Money changers do not use the official exchange rate - you are better off going to a state-owned bank to exchange your currency at no fee.
  • Traveling alone is fine and generally safe in Costa Rica, but carefully consider what kind of risks (if any) you are willing to take. Always hike with other people and try to explore a new city with other people. On solo forays, if you feel uncomfortable to seek out a group of other people (both women and men). A well-lighted place with people you can trust is always a plus. A busy restaurant is a great source of local info as well as a great place to relax and recharge.

Language spoken in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Spanish is the official and most spoken language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official business are conducted in Spanish. English is used widely in most areas, especially those frequented by tourists, and information for visitors is often bilingual or even exclusively in English. A number of businesses operated by European proprietors can accommodate guests in Spanish, English and their native languages.

Some Costa Rican colloquial expressions:
  • Mae or sometimes "Maje" is used akin to the American English word 'dude'. Generally spoken among the male population, or among friends. It is as informal as the word 'dude'. Mae is mostly used by the younger population and Maje by the older population. It is pronounced 'maheh'.
  • Pura vida, literally translated as "pure life," is an expression common to Costa Rica. It can be used in several contexts, as an expression of enthusiasm, agreement, or salutation. It's pronounced 'poora veeda'.
  • Tuanis, means "OK" or "cool." Was believed to be taken from the English phrase "too nice", but it is actually a word borrowed from the Código Malespín, a code developed for communication during the various Central American civil wars in the 19th century.
A prevalent version of slang in Costa Rica, and other regions of Latin America, is called "pachuco", "pachuquismo" or "costarriqueñismo" and is used by all social classes (to some degree), however, it can be at times vulgar and is considered an informal way of speaking.

For the word "you" (singular informal form), instead of "tú", most people of Cartago use "vos" (as in "vos sos" - you are) which is also common to other American dialects of Spanish (Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala...), but the word "usted" is prominent in South Pacific Costa Rica and the Central Valley, and preferred over "vos". Either way, formal Spanish is understood and you may use any form of the word "you" you consider proper.

Costa Ricans tend to use the term Regaláme, literally "gift me", instead of "get me". An example is when a Costa Rican says: "regáleme la cuenta", literally "gift me the bill", which is unusual to other Spanish speaking countries, however, it is a very common Costa Rican term. Another such case might be when Costa Ricans go out to buy something, in which case they might use the term this way: "Regáleme un confite y una Coca", literally, "Gift me a piece of candy and a Coke", but it is understood that the person asking is going to buy said things and is not expecting the other to gift him or her those things. A more precise phrase in standard Spanish would be: "Me vende un confite y una Coca", meaning: "Sell me a piece of candy and a Coke".

Limonense Creole (Mekatelyu)

As well as Costa Rican Spanish, there is also an English-based Creole language spoken in Limón Province on the Caribbean Sea coast of Costa Rica. It is called Limonese Creole or Mekatelyu. This Creole language is similar to varieties such as Colón Creole, Miskito Coastal Creole, Belizean Kriol language, and San Andrés and Providencia Creole since all originated from English seafarers and settlers. The name Mekatelyu is a transliteration of the phrase "make I tell you", or in standard English "let me tell you". It is basically English language however it has a very distinctive pronunciation and vocabulary very similar to Jamaican English.


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